When the nation steps out on May 29 to honor those who died while serving the country in the armed forces, Brookline will also be celebrating another hero – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Monday, May 29 will mark the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth. In honor of the centennial, Beals Street — the location of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site — will close for an afternoon celebration complete with guest speakers like Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (the late president’s great nephew) and a performance by the Brookline Music School.
According to Supervisory Park Ranger at the National Historic Site Jim Roberts, the influence of JFK’s childhood in Brookline can be seen in his political path and speeches.
“That is where the community really begins to influence him,” said Roberts.
In August 1914 Joseph P. Kennedy purchased his first home ahead of his marriage to Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald a few months later. Located at 83 Beals Street that home is where JFK and several of his siblings were born.
According to Roberts, like many Brookliners today, the Kennedys made frequent trips to Coolidge Corner, attended the local St. Aidan’s Church and used the trolley to travel to and from the city.
As the Kennedy family grew, so too did Brookline. In fact, Beals Street looks quite different today than it did when Joseph P. Kennedy purchased his home in 1914. According to Roberts, the street was largely undeveloped with open lots on both sides of the street for the kids to play in.
The family later moved to a larger home on the corner of Naples Road and Abbottsford Road. This is the first home that JFK had memories of, Roberts said.
For Jim Solomon, owner of The Fireplace and an avid history buff, Brookline’s connection to the celebrated president and his family is a particular source of pride.
In honor of that connection Solomon teamed up with the JFK National Historic Site to bring the Kennedys’ history to six of Brookline’s elementary schools. With the assistance of a chef at The Fireplace, Solomon prepared two Kennedy favorites – Rose Kennedy’s favorite Boston Crème Pie and JFK’s favorite waffles.
Two park rangers from the JFK site brought the Kennedys’ lives in Brookline further into focus by dressing up like their housemaids and sharing anecdotes.
“We wanted to show that these Kennedys are normal and they did the same sort of things that you guys do,” Solomon said.
For him it was all about inspiring the students.
“The message was basically that you really can become president or contribute in some significant way,” Solomon said.
Wrapped up in the spirit of celebration, Solomon is not stopping there. He is also planning a fundraiser and is running a special menu at The Fireplace, “Dine Like a Kennedy”.
His motivation? A desire to promote a sense of unity in the midst of the nation’s tense political climate.
“We’re all longing for a little Camelot right now,” said Solomon.
In an effort to help support the JFK national historic site, Solomon is also hosting a 1960s-themed Sock Hop on May 29.
“I’m hoping to raise some money for the birthplace because they’re not allowed by law to seek money,” said Solomon.
Held at the 50s-era Schluntz Gymnasium, the dance party will include 60s music, food, drinks and décor. Adding to the festivities will be a few surprises for guests including a few 60s-era cars which Solomon hopes to park outside the gym to help set the scene.
While the JFK historic site and Solomon are leading the celebration efforts, they are not the only ones. Many local business and community figures are jumping in on the celebration.
Here is a look at what will be happening around town to celebrate the Kennedy legacy.
Thursday, May 19 – The John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, located at 83 Beals Street, will open for the season. The house will be open daily for tours from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through October
Monday, May 22 – Screening of “PT-109” at the Coolidge Corner Theater at 7 p.m. The 1963 film tells the story of JFK’s experiences during WWII.
Friday, May 26 – The “What JFK Means to Me” ceremony will celebrate poetry by third graders from the Edward Devotion School and recognize student essay contest winners. The ceremony will start at 10:00 a.m. at the JFK historic site on Beals Street.
Monday, May 29 – Brookline will hold its annual Memorial Day ceremony at 11:00 a.m., which starts with a 10:45 a.m. procession from the VFW Post to Town Hall.
Beals Street will shut down for the JFK national historic site’s celebration complete with special guest readings of JFK’s speeches, guest speakers, a performance by the Brookline Music School, birthday cake and more. The event will run from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
The birthday celebrations will culminate at a 1960s sock hop hosted by The Fireplace at the Schluntz Gym. The dance party will run from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. and will include a DJ, 60s themed food.
The Coolidge Corner Theatre will screen “Apollo 13” staring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon at 7 p.m. The 1995 film tells the story of astronauts fighting for survival.
Wednesday, June 7 – The Brookline Booksmith will host a book release event at 7:00 p.m. for “Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights” by Steven Livingston.
Saturday, July 22 – The JFK site will host backyard talks in honor of Rose Kennedy’s birthday. Running from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the event will also include cake.
Wednesday, November 22 – The John Fitzgerald Kennedy site on Beals Street will open for the day from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at 2:00 p.m.